A travel agent, who wishes to remain anonymous, has written to Tourism Update amid concerns that even if government does open international borders by September this year – as lobbied for by various industry bodies – it will be too late to salvage 2020 bookings.
Here is the letter in full:
“As I write this letter, I am receiving emails from clients, operators and airlines regarding postponement or cancellation of clients’ international trips booked for September 2020. It seems, from my perspective, that even if our government were to respond to the urgent lobbying of our industry bodies for a September reopening of South Africa’s borders, it is too late to salvage bookings for this period.
As sector after sector of the economy returns to work and the once taken-for-granted ability to earn income, it is increasingly disheartening that our government seems to have little understanding of how the seemingly forgotten travel and tourism sector operates. Each day that passes with no word from government on a date when borders may reopen causes further exponential damage to our industry.
Travel arrangements are made far in advance. The average South African plans an international trip six to nine months in advance. Our sector does not operate like a restaurant or bar that is able to open its doors tomorrow and start generating income from the first customer that sits down at a table. Instead, travel companies build up pipelines of forward bookings from customers where income is only realised months after bookings have been processed. So, when there is no future date specified for when cross-border travel will begin again, clients will not take the risk of parting with large sums of money to make bookings that may not actually materialise. The reality is that forward bookings for international trips are simply not being made, due to the lack of clarity on when the government will allow them to resume.
At the same time airlines, who have already been financially devastated by the pandemic, are seeing other countries around the world reopening their borders. Including Johannesburg or Cape Town as gateways into Southern Africa might be important to some international carriers, but this does not outweigh the importance of getting their aircraft off the ground and earning income again. Airlines now have to reassess their networks. The longer South Africa delays making a decision, the more routes we will lose out on and the less accessible our country will be to the world. Many airlines have already made the decision to cancel their Johannesburg and Cape Town September flight sectors and their existing bookings have been moved out to later dates.
Even where airlines are still holding on to September flights sectors out of South Africa, their policies, in most cases, have already been amended to allow clients to elect to move their bookings to a later date. With less than two months to go until September 1, even the most hardened of South African adventurers is having to face the reality that it is futile to lay out more cash on visas for September trips, while there is a complete travel ban still in effect. Health fears, quarantine restrictions and constantly changing border policies around the world are further discouraging clients from holding on to their bookings.
At this point, even if the government were to make an announcement that borders could reopen in September, my pipeline of forward bookings is already gone. As South Africa’s coronavirus count continues to spike and fears that a second hard lockdown may be on the cards, I am doubtful that travellers will flock to make last-minute international bookings in the event that September border- opening is announced.
They may, however, be amenable to make bookings for early 2021 if the government would announce a firm future date for a border reopening. It is the silence and the lack of clarity that is crushing not only 2020 bookings, but those well into the future.”